My landlord recently cornered one of my roommates — let’s call her Cynthia (I wish I were gay enough to actually have a roommate named Cynthia). Landlord asked sweet Cynthia, suspiciously, “Is Ross a fine person?”
This was, of course, in direct response to a sight he witnessed: the sight of tattoos on the arm of a visiting friend of mine. You’ve HEARD the myths – tattoos exist, and they are silent killers.
Naturally, this question gave me food for thought. Am I a fine person? This can possibly be answered based on my activities of the past week – running to and from work, bathed in sunscreen, thinking heavily, constantly about Julianne Moore and her baffling centricity in this past week’s inaugural category of films in The Camp’s newly begun safari search for The Gayest ’90s Horror Movie. Do fine persons spend hours critically grading and live-tweeting queer horror pics, on a scale of T&A and costumes, no less?
It is for you to decide.
Welcome to the diaries of the first week in #Gay90sHorror-land, where the Van Sants frolic and the Jason Leighs eat curd and whey, where slashers are king and Anjelica Huston is unavoidable.
What is the Gayest ’90s Horror Movie? is a recurring feature that compares and contrasts many freaky and furry films of the hot-button decade that spawned two Spice Girls albums, including R&B jam If U Can’t Dance. The nineties followed franchise gore and peak gay visibility; it preceded the past ten years’ inclusivity and self-aware features. This dedicated fool brings you the search for gay ’90s horror. Tweeter beware, you’re in for a scare: @GingerBredhaus
ON THIS WEEK’S MEAT RACK:
- The Hand That Rocks The Cradle! (Curtis Hanson, 1992)
- Safe! (Todd Haynes, 1995)
- Psycho! (Gus Van Sant, 1998)
So, we kick it off with a bang — the only category (somehow) that revolves around one actress. You’d think there’d be a category for Jennifer Tilly, for Lili Taylor, and a billion for Kathy Najimy, but as the gods have it, all films were easily divided by genre or theme.
Except for three very special flicks: those featuring idol firecrotch Ms. Moore. She’s a face for the redhead movement (as well as for Revlon), and probably one of the few honorable carrot-top celebs. (Ron Howard…?)
Knowing The Hand That Rocks the Cradle was first totally revved my engine. I don’t own it and couldn’t find it on any of our most darling streaming or renting platforms, so I went down into the underbellies, which is fitting for a killer-nanny pic. I found it on one of those weird torrent-y sites you hear about from a random friend, like mumbojumbomovies.uk.nz.vomit. Cued it up and laughed my hiney off:
Rebecca de Mornay plays Peyton Flanders (direct Simpsons rip-off, or…?), the sweater-lovin’ babysitter for successful countryside couple Claire (Annabella Sciorra) and Michael (Matt McCoy). They have a four-year-old daughter, Emma, and an infant, Joey, plus a mentally challenged African-American gardener named Solomon who they awfully condescend like a house pet.
But Peyton ain’t no nanny. She’s actually the vengeful wife of the gynecologist who killed himself after he faced Claire’s public accusations of molestation against him.
Again: Peyton wants to destroy the life of the person who led to her husband’s death. That is Claire, who was molested by the gyno and casually enslaves the handicapped. Peyton becomes Claire’s nanny. (Because that’s how we solve problems: we become nanny-saboteurs.)
This movie is a fucking hysterical mess, a low-brow potboiler, totally out to exploit but in the end resorts to a very hetero-normative, unoriginal, predictable conclusion. It’s a very standard thriller. Luckily, there is so much to chomp on. The gyno-molestation start is tasteless dreck; it’s tense because we’re uncomfortable – because the movie is outrageous. After this scene, the gyno shoots himself and we follow his wife: the icy De Mornay.
Six months later, Peyton meets Claire and Michael after apparently responding to help wanted ad. Her entrance: she saunters in front of a schoolbus in the middle of a street and stops it mid-drive like Wonder Woman back from Club Med. Did her all Polo ensemble frighten the driver? Later, gardener Solomon accidentally spills some paint on her, to which Peyton replies, bright-eyed: “Oh that’s alright! It was an accident! Anyone can have an accident!” Patricia Hearst should’ve played this role, coming off of Crybaby.
Eventually, Sandra Dee / Peyton worms her way between Claire, Michael, and Claire’s best friend: Marlene Craven (flaming Q-Horror alias), who gets a kick outta saying the word “blowjob,” played by none other than MISS JULIANNE MOORE. Peyton stirs up trouble by convincing Claire that hubby and Marlene are screwing.
Peyton also starts feeding her pink nanny-nipple into baby Joey’s mouth on a regular basis. This presents a problem.
Peyton is a certain type of monster in the queer horror world: the force that divides the heterosexual couple. It is her narrative purpose to destroy the hetero-normative relationship. The single, seductive Peyton forms an obsession with Claire, locks her in bullseye, and never lets go. The least fun parts of the movie are watching the hetero couple fight and fall apart. The most fun is watching the sly monster Peyton wreak havoc.
All good things come to an end. Julianne Moore gets killed (read on for how), and Peyton is unmasked as vengeful-molesty-gyno-wife. De Mornay plays up the psycho card to the best of her “ability:” she howls and smashes props. After she’s done ripping off Fatal Attraction‘s home invasion, she is dropkicked through a kitchen table and thrown out a window. The evil is destroyed. Harmonious credits and music immediately play. How Hollywood.
Hand That Rocks the Cradle gets a respectable 6/10 for camp acting, based in part on the so-bad-it’s-get-out-of-here gardener (Ghostbusters‘s Ernie Hudson, why?!). Moore’s whoreish Marlene is devilishly bitchy, but De Mornay takes the poisoned cake. In one scene, she threatens a six-year-old: “I’M GONNA FUCKING RIP YOUR HEAD OFF!!!!!”
Low points for T&A – one measly second where Dad is shirtless. 4/10 for Queer-Connected Crew: iconic Moore; director Curtis Hanson (Bad Influence) and composer Graeme Revell (Bride of Chucky). Dialogue gets some love, such as the soon to be classic Hallmark card from nanny to gardener:“Don’t fuck with me, retard.”
+3 extra points for Moore’s death scene, truly the most ridiculous of all: the glass ceiling of a greenhouse roof falls and crushes her. It seems like a metaphor for working women unable to advance past stalwarts in their career, but y’know what? I can’t be sure. GREAT writing.
+1 point for the nonsensical gyno-molestation hilarity. Fun viewing value (13/20, really, it’s a gasper) and monster-queer theory/theme (8/20) included, I rate this one a total of 44/100.
WALK AWAY WITH THIS: Ten years later, Rebecca De Mornay played a washed-up actress in panned horror film Identity. And she dies first. Annnd… sceeene.
Next was a small, special movie that I knew was going to break my heart Dancer in the Dark-style after having seen it only a very few times in my life, as fag and film student and Moore-lover. That film is Safe, from queer film maestro producer Christine Vachon and New Queer Cinema director Todd Haynes – who until this film had only shot two very low-budget arthouse musts, one of which was Poison.
His first film, obscure short Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story a.k.a. Best Film You’ve Never Seen as said by everyone you hate, is a Barbie re-enactment of the doomed anorexic songbirg. I’d somehow never seen it before and, having just watched The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, my movie-tastebuds needed some Listerine. Superstar was rapturous with quiet camp sadness, a perfect pre-show for our second Moore-centric entry.
Set in 1987, Safe is a creeping descent into cold madness. Carol White (Moore) is a suburban homemaker outside Los Angeles, contentedly married to Xander Berkeley, just-okay in her world of exercises class, light pastels, and housekeeper dependence. Until Carol suffers severe and inexplicable attacks on her respiratory system and ability to concentrate. Days float by in suffocating haze – ambient music score grows thick – until she finds she is no longer able to exist in society, what with its cars and pesticides and killer fruit diets.
After finding a community of fearful likeminded others, Carol suspects she has Twentieth Century Disease: an “environmental illness” due to chemicals abound in our cancerous post-industrial age. Carol’s tragic journey is eerily documented under a microscope by Haynes: we look on as she rejects her husband’s advances, faints at baby showers, endures Exorcist-level blood tests, and gets inducted into a sterile, holistic camp for fellow paranoids. Safe makes for an excellent slow-burn queer horror film.
Right off the bat, the connection to ’80s sickness panic is haunting and fascinating. The first half of the movie has an uncanny amount of subtle, and purposely not overt hints at the mounting AIDS crisis. Carol and her Laura Dern-looking neighbor discuss the death of the woman’s brother: Carol: “It wasn’t…?” Dern-a-like: “No. Everyone thinks that. (Silence) It’s because he wasn’t married.”
Soft talk leads to Carol’s disease and discovery of the environmental illness camp, where she lives for the entire second half of the film in an immaculate near-igloo. Camp is led by openly AIDS-inflicted counselor Peter (Peter Friedman). The film’s silent gayness is ripped open at this point, in which disease-fearing folk are faced with the ultimate image of death. Peter also happens to be the most peaceful, wise character, offering Carol the support that eventually frees her from fear.
Scoring the horror’s queerness, I figured it would rate high given the subject matter and queer persons involved. Haynes, Vachon, Moore, and Friedman (who also, amazingly, co-stars in Single White Female as one of the only other openly queer genre characters of the decade), plus small roles filled by Beth Grant and, Suspiria‘s Jessica Harper raise the Crew category to a whopping 10/10. Production Values are also incredible. I noted several times how perfect certain nightgowns and cringe-worthy jazzercise outfits were for the period, not to mention impeccable late-eighties set design and slick direction.
High points in nearly every category across the board, including the sparse camp acting efforts of every fey, fragile housewife in the film, Moore especially with her mousy squeaks and meek desperation. +1 point for each of three scenes about femininity and horror, including a fainting at a laundromat and a perm that leads to nosebleed. Zero T&A and minimal one-liners keep Safe from rating crazy-high, but it still scores a solid 73/100. Head of the pack!
WALK AWAY WITH THIS: Haynes garnered Oscar noms for Far From Heaven and Emmy noms for the Mildred Pierce update. We quietly await his possible return to Lynchian horror fare like Safe.
Four days and heat exhaustion later, I found myself finally able to complete the Julianne Moore trilogy of blood. I went head-on into this dubious finale with a seasonal buzz of beer plus bowl up on my roof (sadly not a greenhouse) because the third film in question was the reviled, spit-upon remake of Psycho. Critics have flagged Gus Van Sant‘s remake as the poster-child for Reasons Remakes Suck, so I went into this with my Hitch flag flying and a hazy head to document the fuss. Thank you, Netflix streaming.
Okay. It’s pretty bad, yeah. But that’s almost entirely due to casting and, of course, a number of completely questionable and rather stupid experimental additions. I’ll go on record saying, though, it is not a trainwreck. As we’re here not to judge this contest on goodness or badness, we plow forward with the gay agenda. And on that note:
I was swept up right away in the excitement of Bernard Herrmann‘s music. If there’s one thing this film did right, it was keeping every cue of one of the greatest classic scores of all time. Go-to composer Danny Elfman even added his own occasional, funky tweaks. So, already at the credits I was having a ball. Yes, I was stoned, but who isn’t while watching this movie?! Isn’t that, like, a given? Immediately after the credits, we’re presented with several minutes of Viggo Mortensen totally, TOTALLY naked. I was officially secure in my decision to enjoy this.
You know the plot: Marion Crane (lesbialien Anne Heche) is a bad girl who embezzles some money and ends up at Bates Motel, where an infamous serial killer in his dead mom’s best Easter wear slashes her, and then a detective, to pieces. Norman is captured, diagnosed as schizo, and in the early sixties inspires a celluloid trend of transsexual and/or transvestite killers that flourishes in the seventies and the eighties. Kinda like a queer horror Bible.
I’ll chop right to it with this boiling pot of dykey lava: this movie is gay, gay, gay. It has a color palette that – I swear on Captain Howdy – legitimately appealed to me as eye candy. Vibrant pinks, yellows, stylized and cartoonish, low-key but psychedelic. Con: Rita Wilson appears. Pro: She seen no more than once. Pro: One addition in this remake is an ostentatious orange parasol Heche reveals at the used car lot. Con: Viggo is only naked at the very beginning. Pro: He wears a pair of jeans near the climax wrapped tighter than saran on butcher shop meat. Pro: The music carries and elevates most scenes.
Con: Vince Vaughn, as Norman Bates, gives one of the worst leading mainstream horror performances in memory.
Doesn’t he faintly look like Jeanne Tripplehorn in Basic Instinct?
Finally, our girl Julianne shows up as Lila, Marion’s sister, after Heche endures the stab-a-thon in Cabin One. The costume designer should be spanked, unless Ms. Moore was intended to look like a butch fifteen-year-old who’s just bounced home at nine-thirty from her first Vanessa Carlton concert. Seriously, they’ve outfitted her in a pair of yellow walkman headphones and grungy, frumpy “tween punk-ish” gear. It’s pretty hilarious. Combine that with William H. Macy‘s annoyingly hammy little-boy-cop routine, and it’s actually starting to feel like seventh grade.
Psycho was up for three Razzies, which really grinds my gears. I doubt it was one of the absolute worst of 1998 (Godzilla? Casper Meets Wendy!). What’s upsetting is that the attention was focused on Van Sant for “ruining a classic” and Heche, maybe deservedly, for trying on sexualities like unsatisfying tanktops, and yet no one attacked Vince Vaughn for his horrible acting. I will credit this film as an omen for any of his recent comedy-, family-, or whatever shit he’s flopping in these days.
The man’s performance isn’t even campy; it’s dreadful.
The film rates as it should. It’s a remake that cuts to the chase, pays its homages but feels like a slick, colorful commercial for the longer, creepier original. It’s quite fruity: high points in Production Values, including the CGI-affected shower scene may not be wise but still catches the eye, and in T&A. 7/10 for the very generous body of Viggo alone). Queer Themes and Queer Crew is obviously high, too.
This remake carries all the queerness of its predecessor plus added squishy jerk-off noises. Fun Value is a steady 14/20 – it’s watchable. +1 for orange parasol, +1 for the crazily-dubbed Mrs. Bates’s voice, +1 for the weird samba-lounge swamp noir theme end credits (Wild Things, anyone?), +1 for the odd background inclusion at the used car lot with the orange parasol of Rob Zombie’s “Living Dead Girl” (from, again, Bride of Chucky). Total: 68/100
WALK AWAY WITH THIS: Anne Heche is hungry these days. Feed if found.
Queerest Horror of this category: SAFE (1995)
Remember to follow the adventure here: twitter.com/GingerBredhaus!
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#25 Wicked Little Girls – Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) & The Craft (1996)